Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review of 'Y tu Mama Tambien'

An odd mixture of frat/fart movie and social-political critique...is this the way to get a political movie made in Mexico, or is it an attempt to add a layer of 'quality' content on to what's essentially a film about two teenage boys fucking their girlfriends, an older woman, and each other?

I'm not sure. Some of the bolted on social critique is heavy handed - the voice-overs that tell us how the poor family the boys encounter will have a dire future - but in other places it's done with a good deal of subtlety - the checkpoints on the road that the relatively affluent boys just cruise through but where poorer Mexicans are being given a hard time. And the illustration of the class differences between the boys, despite their friendship and common interests (fucking, drugs, and masturbation) is very well done.

One scene puzzled me...eventually the boys have a gay experience, when the older woman takes them both to bed and then sort of slips away. In the morning they awake to find themselves entwined and are shocked. Soon after their friendship ends. But is this homosexual dimension to their friendship hinted at in the scene in which they wank together from the diving board at a deserted luxurious swimming pool? I have read that teenage boys of all sexual orientations, not just gay ones, engage in collective wanking, but it never formed part of my experience.

Watched in the Common House at Springhill via laptop and cable to projector, having obtained the film via informal distribution.

Review of 'Carrie Pilby'

A film that turned out to be better than expected...about a young woman living alone in New York who is extremely intelligent (and a bit of a prig about other people's morals) and therefore finds life difficult and unhappy. Her therapist gives her tasks to complete (acquire a pet, etc) and she resists then complies, and so ends up engaging with life and people. Reconciliation with absent dad, closure on near-abusive episode with college professor, etc.

I note in passing that in this film, as in most others, that it depicts everyone living in apartments that they could only afford if they were millionaires. I also note that the lead, Bel Powley, reminds me very much of the way Alexandra Shulman looked when she was the flatmate of a friend at Sussex University in the late 1970s.

Watched via Netflix and Chromecast - the first almost good film I've watched on Netflix for ages.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review of 'Arrival'

A rather good science fiction movie, with most of the emphasis on plot and character rather than special effects. It's about the difficulties posed by first contact with a clearly superior species...and there is a time-travel/time-perception dimension to it that is really rather well done. Some of the early parts linger a bit on the military preparations, which are supposed to be tense but I found a bit slow, but this is more than made up for by an intellectual female lead who doesn't have to do some special 'female' version of clever - she is just cleverer than most of the male characters around her. Extra points too for an internationalist dimension (humans need to overcome their national differences to solve a big problem) and for acknowledging the value of expertise rather than celebrating some ordinary guy who just happens to...

And extra points too for at least mentioning, and even trying to explain, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which actually becomes an important plot element. Don't remember hearing about that since my undergraduate days, so hooray.

Watched on TV via Chromecast, having been obtained via informal distribution network.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review of 'The Invention of the Land of Israel'

An interesting meander through some of the back alleys of Jewish, Zionist, and of course Palestine history. Of course it's political in content and intent, and Sand makes what seems to me to be a good case that the Zionist movement took the Jews' vague, spiritual and liturgical affinity for a distant land and turned it into a political instrument. I suspect that his selection of evidence (like everyone's) is partial, and that there will be pro-Zionist scholars who will point to other examples that appear to contradict his argument. I'm inclined to be convinced, so I find his argument persuasive and well documented; and his opposition to Zionism is nuanced and intelligent, and doesn't call for a return to some earlier day 'before the Zionist invasion'.

Nevertheless, as with his other book 'The Invention of the Jewish People', there are some things I didn't much like. Here I think he over-emphasises the ethical and humanist dimension of religious Jews' opposition to Zionism. Yes, the ultra-orthodox of various stripes were opposed to Zionism, just as they were opposed to emancipation and the ending of ghettos, and every other aspect of modern life. And they were opposed to a modern, political variant of Jewish nationalism, but they were most still believers in various ghastly ideas about Jewish superiority.

And I think his characterisation of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism could have been different. Apologists for Zionism are fond of saying that it's a nationalism like others, but it's always been a weird nationalism. I can't think of many other variants that were so uninterested in the folk-culture of the people which they intended to make into a national entity. In that sense perhaps Zionism's 'affinity' for an idealised 'ur-nation' of Hebrews as distinct from actually existing Jews is like the religious Jews' affinity for an idealised, spiritualized 'Land of Israel' that can be a focus of longing devoid of any geographical or practical reality.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Review of 'Man Up'

A surprisingly enjoyable rom-com, with lots of good British character actors. Some visual and physical comedy, and also great dialogue. Nothing special to look at but witty and fun, with nice details that confirm this is twenty-first century London. Simon Pegg acts and is involved with the production - not always a good sign, but this is one of his best. Rory Kinnear is great as the creepy old school friend, and Olivia Williams is good as the ex-wife too. A really good laugh, I thought.

Watched on BBC iPlayer via Chromecast.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review of The Intern

A gentle comedy about...well, work, really. Robert de Niro plays retired Ben, whose life is meaningless without something useful to do, so he applies for and gets a role in Anne Hathaway's company, which has decided to advertise for senior interns (yes, seniors as interns) as a sort of community outreach thing. The film avoids the obvious jokes about old people not being able to understand technology or the new world of work - Ben is superbly adaptable - and instead mainly focuses on Anne Hathaway as the CEO neglecting her home life to pursue her business goals. Which, the film says, is more or less the right thing to do, because the business is her dream.

Quite fun to watch, and some nice jokes about the old guy giving the young dudes good advice about life, relationships and grooming. Not sure about the overall message, but it's only a film.

Watched on DVD at my mum's flat, my mother-in-law having burned it on to a disc from a TV showing. That's old school.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review of 'Hidden Figures'

A nice anti-racist film, about three black women mathematicians who contributed to the space program despite all the obstacles put in their way. Very big on the patriotic dimension - so how it emphasises racism and sexism detracted from achieving the national objective of beating the Commies in space, and how the realisation of this gradually dawns on the buzzcut types running NASA. But very good on the little observations about how racism (and to a lesser extent sexism) are embodied in multiple experiences of everyday life, from segregated bathrooms and coffee pots to forms of address. Of course, black people know this already.

I rather thought Jim Parsons (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory) stole the show as the obnoxious,  condescending racist chief engineer Paul Stafford - perhaps because he is able to draw on all of the awkwardness and snarkiness of the Sheldon character.

Watched via Chromestream and Chromecast from my Ubuntu laptop - I think the first time that I made this work - having first obtained the film via an informal distribution network.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review of 'The Duke of Burgundy'

A sad film about sex and sexuality. It's a story about two middle-aged lesbians, one of whom is  obsessed by sadomasochistic fantasies and requires the other to act out a highly specified script (literally, a script) of humiliation and degradation. The irony, which is the essential irony of all BDSM relationships, is that it's the submissive who is in control. The apparently dominant one just wants to wear warm, cozy flannel pyjamas and have a nice cuddle, but instead has to put on fantasy clothing (lots of expensive lingerie, credited in the film) and high heels to gratify the submissive one. The film illustrates this much better than any other discussion of the same point that I have seen.

They genuinely love each other, but the love is eaten up and destroyed by the 'submissive'partner's need to turn every act of intimacy into theatre. She more or less forces the 'dominant' partner to perform acts that she clearly finds horrible, including pissing in the other's mouth and locking her into a trunk at night. There is a strange, symbolic sub-text in that both the women, and many others in the neighbourhood, are lepidopterists, and there is a lot of footage of butterflies and moths. The Duke of Burgundy of the title is a butterfly.

The film looks beautiful, though not at all sexually arousing; it's filmed in Hungary, and the countryside is at once ravishing and unfamiliar. There are some weird  scenes in the local butterfly collectors institute (one of which features some panning shots where some members of the audience are manikins), and the credits include one for perfume.

Watched via Chromestream from my linux laptop and Chromecast, the film having been sourced from an informal distribution network.